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Cold in Pittsburgh, wet in San Francisco. Hey, it will be mid-January when the NFL conference championships are staged Sunday in these cities and that's what the weather's supposed to be. You can bet the media won't let it go at that, however.
* One of the great recruiting stories is how Providence College landed Hall of Fame player and now winningest NBA coach Lenny Wilkens. Friars coach Joe Mullaney was checking out Brooklyn in the mid-'50s and was turned down by a kid when a playground game caught his eye as he was getting into his car. He checked it out, was captivated by Wilkens' defensive brilliance, a rarity in pickup games, and the rest, as they say, is history.
* That's not a bad first entry the Kemper Open has announced for its tourney at Avenel June 5-11, a week before the U.S. Open: Jose Maria Olazabal. The winner of the Masters last year, plus the World Series of Golf, is currently ranked No. 5 on the Sony world list.
* One of the ESPN sportscasters was rattling off first-round scores of a women's tennis tournament the other night when he interrupted himself and exclaimed, "Can you believe Pam Shriver is still playing?" Pam's 32 years old.
* The "Bill James Player Ratings" book is out already and here's what the stats expert has to say about some of your favorite players: "Mike Mussina, who's 26 but pitches more like he's 33, will run out of gas in four years." . . . "Ben McDonald hasn't made anybody forget Jim Palmer, but after 40 wins in three years, it is time to stop talking about his potential. Note to Phil Regan: Ben needs five days between starts. His ERA is 4.26 on four days' rest, 2.86 on five." . . . "Besides having the most doubles in baseball since 1990, Rafael Palmeiro is among the major-league leaders in hits and extra-base hits. He is one of the most durable players in baseball, playing at least 95 percent of his team's games every year since 1988."
The highest-valued players by position under James' $100 maximum system are Mike Piazza behind the plate (Chris Hoiles second), Frank Thomas at first, Roberto Alomar at second, Matt Williams at third, Barry Larkin at shortstop (Cal fourth), Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey and Larry Walker in the outfield. Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson are the righty and lefty pitchers with Rod Beck as the closer.
Bonds carries the max value with Griffey and Thomas following just pennies behind.
* While it's true Don Shula owns the most coaching victories in NFL history (337), former record holder George Halas (325) still maintains the slimmest of margins in regular-season win percentage over Don: Halas, 318-148 for .682; Shula, 319-149 for .681.
* Besides Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games played record of 2,130 Cal Ripken is chasing, another mark the Orioles shortstop has a pretty good bead on is career grounded-into-double plays. The mark is 328 (Henry Aaron) and Cal is up to 240.
* Imagine Phil Niekro and Don Sutton with their 318 and 324 victories, respectively, missing out on the Hall of Fame qualification by such huge amounts (59 and 81 votes). Sutton, who is in the top 10 all time in shutouts, strikeouts and innings pitched, had an ERA in the Bob Feller range (3.26).
* Dan Marino figures to go roaring past Fran Tarkenton's marks atop the all-time NFL passing records next season, needing just 15 TD heaves, 83 completions, 1,930 yards and 418 attempts to sweep the board clean. That figures to be in at least five fewer seasons, too. Not bad for a guy picked 28th in the 1983 draft behind John Elway, Ken O'Brien, Tony Eason and Todd Blackledge.
* Someone has to be kidding: A company named Treasure Me Dolls is marketing a miniature likeness of Indiana's sometimes graceless basketball coach Bobby Knight that retails for $545.
* Despite being winless in 11 tries, Morgan State is not the lowest-rated team in Division I college hoops. Ten schools trail the Bears, some with three or four wins to their credit, all the way back to the trailer, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo (0-13).
* My new hero is Blair Thomas, backup running back for the Dallas Cowboys. Did you notice what he did the other day when the Pokes were laying it on Green Bay? He burst into the end zone for a score and handed the ball to an official -- no histrionics, no look-at-me hot-dogging, no blatant attempts for individual attention in a team game. Shocking!